There are several intriguing storylines to keep an eye on as the spring season beckons--only 12 days until tournament action finally begins again--but there's one in particular that I'm curious to see how it plays out:
How will the Oklahoma State women's team fare?
Not many schools experienced a more tumultuous fall than the Cowgirls, who had their head coach (Laura Matthews) abruptly resign in October and an All-American caliber player (Jaclyn Sweeney) transfer in December. Still, they finished the first half of the 2008-09 campaign ranked fourth in the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll. Short on players--only five women appear on the current roster--OSU is long on talent with Swedish standouts Pernilla Lindberg (71.58 average) and Caroline Hedwall (71.17) leading the charge and making the school an attractive "dark horse" challenger to the current Big Three (UCLA, Arizona State and USC) in the women's game.
"I don't think a lot of changes need to be made," says Annie Young, the 26-year-old former OSU All-American hired last month to replace Matthews, about preparing for the spring. "They did a heck of a job this fall. They know how to play golf. They're so talented that if I just let them go play, they're going to be fine."
Can the same be said, though, for Young? The Highland, Utah, native, who spent her time since graduating in 2005 trying to make it on the LPGA Tour, has never been a coach of any sort at any level. Considering she's not that far removed from being an elite amateur player herself (under her maiden name, Thurman, she won the 2002 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links title and securing the winning point for the victorious 2004 U.S. Curtis Cup team), she'll likely be able to relate to her new charges. That said, being a teammate and being a coach are two very different things.
As tough as it might have been for Young to take over the program mid-season, the timing actually might have worked to her advantage. Hired in early December, she met with her players for a get-acquainted dinner just before they took finals. As they finished their course work and went home for the winter break, Young was able to hit the recruiting trail in hopes of finding a few more bodies for the 2009-10 season (three of the five Cowgirls are seniors, including Lindberg). Top high schoolers Jane Rah,Sue Kim and Kimberly Kim had committed verbally to the program for next fall but after Matthews left, only Rah signed a letter of intent in November. (Sources say Kimberly Kim is still considering going to OSU; Young wouldn't comment, other than saying "We'll be able to put a good group of girls together.")
Suffice it to say, however, Young has been anxious to finally get to work with her current team, the defending Big 12 Conference champions, as school resumed last week. If there's a concern on her part, it's whether having such a thin roster might result in complacency while working back in Stillwater. To that end, she intends to carry a bag and play with her team during practice rounds. "I think it's a big factor in getting them to be competitive out there," Young says. "It's easier to understand what they're going through if you're playing the game along with them."
Young believes she'll be able to help her players most with the mental aspect of the game. "I learned a lot out on tour at what it takes to be successful," Young says. "Now, I wasn't always able to carry that over to my own game, but I got a lot of good ideas." Also working in her favor is the fact that she has veteran assistants Alan Bratton and Donnie Darr to lean on, not only as she learns the logistics of being an NCAA coach but also in getting to know her players better.
So what, then, should people expect from the Oklahoma State women?
"I think it would be bad for me to say that I don't expect to be up there for the conference championship and be in the hunt when it comes to nationals," Young says. "We might only go five deep, but any of those five can fire a pretty low number at any time. You don't know what the outcome will be, but we definitely should be in the mix with the talent we have."